A look into some of the better mixtapes of the last two weeks.
Welcome to the first installment of Mixtape Corner, a feature that will focus on the free projects that don't get reviewed, but still warrant your attention. We'll be rounding up the best of these releases every two weeks, creating a space for both discovery and discussion.
This week we're looking at Nef The Pharaoh effective transition project, Neffy Got Wings, 2 Chainz low-key triumph, Felt Like Cappin, and Jacquees' exciting promise, Mood. Let us know what you think of the projects in the comments below, and feel free to include your own recommendations.
Nef The Pharaoh & Cardo- Neffy Got Wings
The biggest surprise from Nef The Pharaoh's debut EP was "Michael Jackson," a Cardo-produced track that took the rapper's Bay Area style and made it both catchier and more textural. The record shows up once again on Nef's new 10-track collaboration with Cardo, Neffy Got Wings, which might be even better than the rapper's major label project from a few months back.
Working with Cardo brings out the post-Khalifa West Coast sounds that HBK have been riding with over the last few years, and a song like "Devil's Team" really enforces Wiz's claim that he looked to Max B for hook inspiration, with Nef's loose chorus falling somewhere between the two.
The kush haze is gone by the second half, with Nef getting into darker G-Funk territory, and while his everyman modesty is one of his most likable qualities, he does aggressive pretty well. Later on, he goes note-for-note with Ty Dolla $ign and holds his own, floating between rapping and singing in a high register that puts him somewhere close to the Detroit-based but Bay-beloved Dej Loaf.
Whether or not it suggests a concrete direction for Nef, the tape gives us an idea of his versatility, with Cardo keeping it all restrained into one cohesive whole.
2 Chainz- Felt Like Cappin
2 Chainz found success through smash singles and unforgettable features in 2012, but it wasn't until 2013's BOATS II that he made a surprising turn as an album artist. What Tity's sophomore album lacked in hits, it made up for in cohesion. While that album made the 2 Chainz formula bigger and shinier (as its album cover mirrored), the highly quotable rapper would take a more experimental turn on Freebase, reeling in his outrageous punchline-based style a bit in favor of putting the songs first.
Chainz' latest release falls somewhere between Freebase and his focused, but single-oriented 2014 project, Trapavelli Tre. Rapping more elegantly than ever, Tity brings just as much energy as each beat requires, rather than his 2012 approach of pulling the listener out of the song momentarily, inspiring gasps, WTFs, or more often than not, genuine laughs. On Felt Like Cappin, Chainz has done something we never expected him to do -- he's found a pocket.
Of course, the tape wouldn't be as successful as it is without its impeccable beat selection, featuring production from Atlanta's young guns (TM88, FKi), higher-ups (Mike WiLL & Zaytoven), and surprisingly, Timbaland, whose darting pan flute sounds weirdly perfect next to Zay's organ stabs.
The songs work well as a unit, but really, it's easier to see these as a collection of singles-- each as capable of breaking as the last (though we're betting on the perfectly reserved "MF'n Right," which recently got a look on OVO Sound Radio), and in ATL's hit-making economy, 2 Chainz seems to have found a comfortable spot.
There's something warm and welcoming about Jacquees' new mixtape. As R&B artists in the post-Drake era become more reclusive, often as an aesthetic choice, the Georgia singer stands proudly shirtless on his album cover, an openness and confidence in tradition he displays throughout his new project.
Even before he officially appears on two songs down the line, Birdman's voice is present, with his infamous Rich Gang ad-lib getting just as much mileage as it did on Tha Tour Vol. 1, but just like that project, Mood defies its seemingly guiding hand and is ultimately driven by the artist its attributed to. Outside of one (admittedly great) dabbling in Cash Money nostalgia (and a spot-on impression of Thug on "Ready"), it's an uncompromising statement.
With many of his peers coloring their voice with auto-tune, Jacquees has chosen to let his mid-range voice flourish in its unaltered glory, ever so briefly breaking into an angelic falsetto now and again. His closest vocal comparison at this point might be Trey Songz, another singer who has kept his stock up by sticking close to the core of R&B, and letting his voice guide his songwriting.
At times, such as the Kevin Gates and Young Scooter-assisted highlight, "9," in which the overused 'gun as woman' metaphor is flipped into the slightly less common (and more romantic) 'woman as gun,' Jacquees evokes the playfulness of fellow Georgian, Lloyd, a singer who's sadly been MIA for a few years now.
While that playfulness can sometimes go overboard (he compares his dick to a chocolate bar multiple times on "Come Thru," and the fact that he chooses Twix of all available options is downright unsettling), Jacquees has a youthful charisma that adds a certain spark to his songwriting, and it might be enough to make him a star one day.